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Patriot Games
Former Lovejoy multi-sport athlete Jason Umiamaka shares worldwide tales of life in the U.S. Army

By Rory Sharrock

rsharrock@news-daily.com

In the vernacular of sports jargon, words like bullet, bomb, attack and air raid are tossed around so frequently, that the average person can almost lose all sense of its true meaning.

But for Jason Umiamaka, these words aren't just slang to describe a play in a game, however, they are a reality of life as a soldier serving as a Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW3) and pilot instructor in the United States Army.

As a CW3, Umiamaka has been honored with numerous commendations and awards for outstanding leadership, including the Meritorious Unit Commendation, Army Unit Commendation, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Senior Army Aviators Badge, Combat Action Badge.

Umiamaka, who graduated from Lovejoy in 1992, has traveled all over the world with the Army, but still has close ties to his hometown community. Even with everything he's seen from all four corners of the globe, he's a Wildcat for life and made sure to check on the team at practice during a visit to Clayton County last month.

While at Lovejoy, he was a wide receiver, tight end and defensive back on the football team. He also ran track along with playing basketball and baseball.

His skills on the gridiron earned him a scholarship to attend the University of West Georgia in Carrolton.

He played football during his freshman and sophomore year, however, he gave up the game during the second half of his college years to focus on his academics.

After earning his degree in 1998, he felt a burning passion deep within to serve his country, so he enrolled in flight school and enlisted in the Army.

Upon completing flight school in 2000, he took off for Korea, where he would complete a three-year tour of duty. One year into his tour overseas, he watched in horror at the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93 outside Pittsburgh.

"When Sept. 11 kicked off, we didn't know who it was and we got pushed up near the North Korean border until we found out what was going on," said Umiamaka. "That tour is usually a one-year tour, but when the war kicked off in Afghanistan, they couldn't afford to move people around, so they froze us in Korea."

Once his tour in Korea was complete, he briefly returned stateside, but in May 2007, he boarded a plane for dangerous battle zones of Iraq.

Here in the states, people have seen images on television, read reports on the Internet and heard discussions on talk radio, however, Umiamaka was there in person and saw first-hand the true devastation of war in the Middle East.

"It's deeper. There's a lot of people that want to be there and win this war. The hardest thing that happens is seeing U.S. soldiers getting hurt and not having a sense of why we're doing what we're doing. I'm married, so the hardest thing about being overseas is being away from my family and friends."

With such a stress-related job, sports has become even more important in his life as a calming distraction from the rigors of strategic planning and survival in the desert.

Umiamaka also relies on his athletic training while working in military and he's shown off those talents during flag football, basketball and softball games between the soldiers in other company battalions.

Although there is a huge difference between running football drills and Army drills, he draws comparisons with the infrastructure of a team and ranking officials in the military.

"Coaches structure your life of how they want to run practice and it falls in line with the military. There's a chain of command in sports with your head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and assistant coaches. Here, you have your company commander, platoon leaders and section sergeants. The company commander is like the head coach. He says 'I need this done' and we have to do this way," he said.

In typical Army fashion, Umiamaka won't acknowledge that he's a hero both on the national and local level. Instead, he gains satisfaction from performing a job well done and giving back to his country. He currently resides in Pooler with his wife Sheri and two-year-old son Gannon. Umiamaka is scheduled to return to Iraq in January 2010.